All over the world, aquatics professionals labor in obscurity fighting the good fight for their local pool, inspiring yet another generation of lifeguards to take to the stands with vigilance, or devising ingenious designs to make facilities more safe, fun and healthy.

It is these I want to recognize today. And it’s all thanks to a reader, who reminded me of something very important: Aquatics is a profession that’s built on mentors. Think about it. People certainly don’t get into aquatics for the money, or the fame, or the recognition. They get into it because they love aquatics. Why? Because they’ve been inspired by someone else who loves aquatics — they’ve seen through these people’s, actions, words and deeds what it means to make a difference in a community, a facility, a life.

So as you think about what it means to reinvent aquatics, I hope you’ll remember that you’re as much a part of the solution as any one else featured in this year’s Power 25. You have the power to make change happen. You have the ability to inspire a new generation of aquatics professionals.

In that spirit, I want to know who inspired you? Who was your mentor? Please, share your stories here. The more stories we get, the more that inspiration will flow, and the better we will all be for it.

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Comment by Tukz Taaca on March 3, 2010 at 4:31am
Thank you. Leaders that strive for you to be your very best!

No one starts out being great. I should know. There were many "teachable moments" in my aquatics career, if not in life that builds you into who you are today. And even then, you are still learning. Normally, it takes people to be in your path that have wisdom, character, humility, common sense, beliefs, experience, morals, values, knowledge, and a sense of humor. The great ones aren't great themselves, they surround themselves with others to make them successful.

There are many that have given me sagely advice and those of you know who you are and I appreciate every one of you. But, one stands out. He was my instructor, my leader, and now my friend. His name is Tom Werts. It started out in 1994. I've always wanted to work at "The Happiest Place on Earth". Well, I didn't have the happiest of instructors. At first, he was intimidating and had a I'm in charge demeanor. It was my first day in class and he laid it all out in 30 minutes. One of the days, a student was a couple minutes late and he laid into them. But, used it in terms of lifeguarding and how tardiness can affect the whole operation. That student was never late for the rest of the class. When I became a lifeguard years before, my class wasn't like this. He talked about watching people's lives like your life depended on it! It was an intense week or was it two weeks. It was so intense that I blocked it from my mind. All kidding aside. We swam and swam and swam. This along with rescues and life-like scenarios and in-depth book work. The conditioning really helped, unlike today. In that short time period, he helped us gain endurance and stamina because you never know how long or what conditions you will face in an emergency. Not only that the pool we worked in was 20 feet deep in some parts. I'm no scuba diver, but try getting a brick off the bottom? We all did it. It was one of the best lifeguarding classes I've taken. Because of the real life experiences he told us. In the end, he made us more confident in our skills. Eventually, the day he left the company there was a going away party for him. I remember it like it was yesterday. He was honored with a surfboard with signatures of all the people that made a difference in their lives. What an honor! There must have been over 200 people there. He mingled, shook hands, and stories were told about him and how tough love helped them be a success.

Years later, our paths would cross again. He was looking for people that would start a new aquatic examiner program. We met at a favorite pancake place to talk over his plans for the program. He laid it out in detail for me and allowed me to ask questions. I didn't think I could be one of his first examiner's. As he sat there, drinking his cup of coffee he looked right at me and confidently told me that I could and would be a great addition for this initial start. What a confidence booster! In the period that I worked for and with him, I saw the tireless effort he would put into his work. I never saw a look of worry on his face. He always had this look of; "Ok, let's handle it this way." On one of trips out to a waterpark, with camera in hand and after the whole observation and scenario was done. He systematically broke down everything to the minute detail. But, at the same time gave fatherly advice that made the lifeguard feel that they did something good and could accomplish more.

During a low point in my life, I made my way to Colorado for a new job. It was the scariest thing in my life. Weeks before I left he talked with me and let me be myself. Another person also helped me. Her name is Kim Lytle. The both of them guided me and listened and never criticized me. As I made my 1,900 mile trek through the U.S., I remembered their encouraging words. It was better than listening to all my CDs or talking to myself to stay awake. When I got there, I literally had no one except for a friend I knew. No family, no close friends. Just me. I don't like the cold! I don't hold back in that one. I missed beautiful, sunny, and WARM Florida. But, the both of them gave me a reality check. Don't run away from your problems, face them. It was great advice. I learned a lot about fortitude during that time. Then after a couple of years, I made some life changes and moved back to Florida.

When I got back, it was a wonderful reunion. I met them at trainings, dinners, and they even attended my wedding. Oh, how much fun we had and the never ending laughter! Now, every now and then we would correspond. The last time we met was at a conference last year in Orlando. Everywhere we went, they introduced themselves as my "parents". That phrase has been said for over 5 years now. And they never get tired of saying it. In a way, they are my professional career parents. They watched me grow and learn and stumble. But, helped me get back up again and keep going. Just like real parents. The love and attention given to a child is priceless. I felt that. Its humbling to see someone care for you that much to succeed. They put all in all their time and effort. You can't help but honor them by succeeding.

I now run my own operation and take with me all the things taught to me over the years. It shows in the way, I teach my classes. I take a no nonsense approach. I don't sugar coat a thing! Because of my experience, I give them a reality check and let them know you are watching people's lives like your life depended on it! But, I ease in and help them understand and let them think for themselves and give them constructive criticism and praise. And, I love to joke around with them too! Now that I'm older (but young at heart), I've received many compliments for the things I did for my staff and what it meant to them. It's my turn to mentor others and help them be the best they can be. In a way, I am Tom Werts to them.
Comment by Ivey West on February 22, 2010 at 1:28pm
Two people through the years have greatly influenced my aquatic career.
Jim Shideler was my first supervisor, at Water Country USA, a guy who set me on the right track as far as keeping my priorities in line, and being an effective operator.
Chris Stuart brought be back into the industry when I was trying to figure out what to do with my career, and has been a guide to me ever since.
I've been blessed though, to have worked with quite a few brilliant leaders, like Billy Huddy, Joe Schmidt, and Franceen Gonzales.
Comment by Mary Ann Downing on February 12, 2010 at 6:18am
My earliest swim instructor and coach, Richard Gaydos, then my boss/mentor, Al Wagner and most of all...IUP. Thanks to IUP's Aquatic Schools, the best in Aquatics inspired a generation of us! Ralph Johnson, Bob Evans, Frank Pia, Martin Nemiroff, Doug DeArnell, Louise Priest, Lois Clark, Al Wagner and more... lectured, taught in the pool and on the lake. IUP's influence spreads now through guys like Kim Tyson, and Bob Ogoreuc... they inspire me now!
Comment by Mark Moore on February 5, 2010 at 2:41pm
Mike Giles, Sr. - University of Southern Mississippi - The best organizer and consensus builder I have worked under.
Louise Priest - The one person who cares for everybody and wants to see them enjoy the water and enjoy life.

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